I object !

edited September 2009 in The Best of Story Games
Reading a thread about narrative control and pig farms on another board, a sentence caught my attention.
If Player X spends a Destiny Token and I reply "umm...no" then I look like a douche vis-a-vis the expectation.
Is that something you experienced in your games? Is it difficult to use a veto even if the game rules explain that it's perfectly legitimate? Do you tiptoe around game situations where you should use your veto prerogative but prefer not to for social reasons? Is this all just reactionary propaganda from paranoiac trad' gamers?


  • edited September 2009
    I have never had a problem with a veto though I rarely find them useful. Every transaction at the table is a negotiation in some sense, and the veto is way at the far end of that. Even hardcore GM-is-God players still look at the others for cues to see if they are going too far and adjust accordingly.
  • There are social consequences of even the possibility of a veto. It shapes behavior of everyone at the table, particular those who might be less confident of their vision. Not all vetos are explicit.

    That's one of the things Microscope is designed to try out, the complete absence of a veto. There's a web of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) factors in place that make it work.
  • Objection!

    But seriously, I've never had a problem using a veto, even in games without explicit rules for doing so. If someone's doing something they shouldn't me and my groups tend to be ok with telling them to lay off it.
  • Posted By: bouletIs that something you experienced in your games?

    In my experience, when there's a rule that allows a veto, and everyone knows it... Suddenly, the amount of stuff actually worthy of a veto drops to almost nothing.

    What actually happens is that people get asked to restate things or come at them a different way.
  • YES!

    I've been prosyletizing that for YEARS.

    Universalis has a Challenge mechanic which comes in 2 parts...the friendly negotiation part, and the put your money where your mouth is part (which is essentially a resource based veto).

    The number of times I personally have experienced a Challenge go all the way to the bidding step in the last 8 years...like 3.

    But I've demoed the game dozens of times, and I can tell you that the games where I just skip explaining the Challenge rules (cuz they rarely get used anyway) and the times where the Challenge rules are featured promenantly are like night and day.

    With no Challenge rule explanation the game nearly always went immediately gonzo, the fastest / loudest player dominated play and others felt compelled to go along even if they didn't want to. In games with the Challenge rules, that stuff hardly ever happened.

    I call it negotiation with teeth. If a player asks you to tone down the gonzo (or whatever) and has the mechanical means to back the request up, IME those requests are almost always met respectfully and quickly. In the absence of mechanics with teeth the issue gets thrown back to the social level. IMO over reliance on the social level to provide smooth play is a design flaw.

    Another reason I think veto / challenge mechanics are effective is because the provide a reason beyond the social to compromise. Say I want something different from you. Say there a mechanic in place that when triggered means one of us will get our way and the other won't...say its completely random (like "any other player can call for a roll off, high roller wins). We now both have a motivation to reach compromise quickly because getting to a point where we can both agree is better for me than risking getting stuck with an unfavorable result. You and I now have a motivation to come to an accord before someone else gets bored listening to us wrangle and calls for the roll off where we risk getting nothing.

    IME I've also found that, even in very socially functional groups, the ability to use the mechanics to bear the brunt of disatisfaction really helps avoid those awkward social moments where you fear you went to far in stating your case and the other player felt pressured. By shifting it to the mechanical from the social it really helps avoid those line crossing moments.

    Note also that there's a WIDE range of possible "how do you decide who gets their way" mechanics besides just outright veto. Some will work exceedingly poorly for certain types of games / groups. But I think there's always a way to come up with some variation that will work well, it might take a bit of digging and trial and error to get it to feel exactly right, however.
  • We were playing Houses of the Blooded and one of the players hadn't read the book and just wasn't taking in the source material. A few times during play we all vetoed a contribution because it felt too little like the kind of fantasy at hand and too much like some kind of Warhammer/Tolkien pastiche-y thing.

    I think if he had read the material this wouldn't have happened.
  • Very interesting explanation Ralph!

    Judd: so did the GM ask the rest of the group how they felt about these specific contributions ? Or was it like a spontaneous uproar from most players against the player's input?
  • Posted By: bouletJudd: so did the GM ask the rest of the group how they felt about these specific contributions ? Or was it like a spontaneous uproar from most players against the player's input?
    Everyone just kind of shook their heads and looked at him. I don't remember exactly how the veto went down but it was from everyone, not a centralized place.
  • Ralph's post matches and expands on my experiences almost exactly, just with different game names and specific terms scattered throughout.
  • Sorry Levi, I didn't mean to belittle you. It's just that Ralph brought details about the psychology behind negotiations, the link with the feedback rule (whether straight veto, resource competition, randomized adjudication...) and how it leads to very little clashes as both of you observed.
  • Ralph is spot on. There are a lot of social reasons why you might not want to veto someone - they're new to gaming, they're bigger and stronger than you, you want to smooch them, all of the above. But being able to negotiate it and have a "veto as play" sort of thing helps ground it.

    Games that give me that make my life easier.
  • I don't know. I've observed a lot of hurt feelings when people's contributions get veto-ed, even or perhaps especially in games where there is a mechanic for it. If you are in a group where that's not acceptable, the game isn't going to change that no matter how interesting the mechanic.
  • Posted By: bouletSorry Levi, I didn't mean to belittle you.
    Pfft. Ralph said it better!
  • I don't know. I've observed a lot of hurt feelings when people's contributions get veto-ed, even or perhaps especially in games where there is a mechanic for it. If you are in a group where that's not acceptable, the game isn't going to change that no matter how interesting the mechanic.

    There's no magic bullet to be sure. What I've observed is that mechanics help navigate those issues and the act of players agreeing to play a game with those mechanics provides a certain default buy-in to having them handled that way. When I've see hurt feelings IME having the hurt come from a procedure rather than a person helps reduce the sting somewhat.

    But when the sting comes from the realization that your friends don't think your contribution is as cool as you do that's not going to be prevented by a procedure. But if a procedure can help cut it off at that so that the hurt doesn't fester into resentment by simply getting through it cleanly and without alot of unfortuneate things being said, then that's a distinct advantage IMO.
  • Hey Ralph, so I've always been kinda squicky about vetos, so I'm trying to work a way around them. I'm making a game where I explicitly institute a rule saying "Whatever you say happens, happens." Essentially saying that there is no mechanized veto option.

    However, the system introduces consequences for your statements. Those consequences are created by the rest of the players, who also have the privilege of "Whatever you say happens, happens."

    Also, before each game, I make it a part of the procedure to discuss the mood and scope of the game, so everyone comes to an agreement about whether to go big and gonzo or small and discrete.

    So if one player introduces gonzo, but the rest of the group doesn't dig it, they have the option of mitigating that craziness through creative consequences. Vice versa also holds true as well.

    It's working alright so far, but my game is heavily geared towards gonzo. :P
  • edited September 2009
    Sure. IME that kind of rule works in one of 2 situations.

    1) When all the players are engaged in a Vulcan Mind Meld of Flow.

    2) When you don't mind crazy wack gonzo sillyness.

    Seems like you're covered there.

    I have a fairly profound dislike for gonzo that crosses the line into goofy territory, so that wouldn't really be a selling feature for me.

    But philosophically, IMO, you can never escape vetos. There will always be a veto power at the table. I would submit for consideration that there has always been a veto power at everyone's table in every game we've ever played.

    The only question is whether that veto power is listed explicitly in the rules so everyone can use it equitably, or whether it simply manifests in the individual with the biggest personality, the most cutting eyeroll, the most forceful way of speaking, the most charming persuasiveness, the most pitful whine, or is just the person everyone wants to score with. There are a million possibilites ranging from the subtle and hard to detect to the aggressive and obnoxious. But someone ALWAYS has a veto power.
  • Posted By: ValamirBut someone ALWAYS has a veto power.
    That's inherent in the fact that anyone can get up and leave, most likely to the detriment of the game. In Olde Skoole games, if that was the GM, you were ALL done... so the GM veto became a de facto Rule One (or veto or whatever). This can extend to the host or owner of the place you're playing, the most desirable player, and so forth as Ralph says. But with a Strong GM Game, the GM veto is a given, even if the notion doesn't come up in the game text at all.
  • I really love all the insights into the implied veto that you guys have written. Do you think it's worth compiling this into a sidebar even if my game doesn't have a veto rule?
  • Well, this is me you're asking...so...I ALWAYS think its worth compiling that sort of stuff into a sidebar because I'm a big believer in having the game be clear about how its supposed to function and what mindset you need to bring to the table to get it to function.

    I know others prefer texts to be more black boxish...I hate black box texts...
  • Weird tangent: Who will read the sidebar if it's there?

    What I mean is, it seems like something very important for all of the players to be aware of, but IME usually there's just one person reading the text, then teaching everyone else how to play.
  • Just found this thread. Interesting. Verge had a veto mechanic, but I got rid of it because no one ever used it. I wonder if further playtesting will show that now I need it.
  • I'm not familiar with Verge or how your particular mechanic worked, but I can say with some certainty that lack of being actively used does not automatically indicate that it didn't have an impact on play just by is presence (in fact, I think that's when veto mechanics are at their most powerful).
  • RE: Black box texts and veto rule presence:

    So if you have a veto rule in your game, should you be clear about it being there just as an omnipresent option to keep the gonzo down or do you just add the rule without any further commentary?
  • If I were writing it I'd be clear about when you expect people to call on it and why, and perhaps what attitude it should be used with. But I don't think I'd spend much time defining the emerging qualities you expect it to have, unless there was a particular game specific reason to do so. I'd also try to use a mechanic that reinforces the tone of your game .

    In Blood Red Sands I have a challenge mechanic where to challenge someone you must stand up and then loudly tell the other player why they are weak and their idea is lame while gesticulating aggressively. People who agree with you must stand with you, and people who remain seated support the challengee. Majority wins, and the loser has to utter the ritual phrase "As you will" to signify their submission.

    I do spend a good bit of time explaining the purpose of this Challenge and what the standing and the ritual phrases are for (because they're hella fun and work amazingly well but otherwise might be prone to being skipped as funny text not meant to be followed).

    But the attitude of Blood Red Sands is to go totally over the top testosterone fuelled machismo...so the faux mocking and posturing of the Challenge is designed to reinforced that attitude and also take some of the sting out of being challenged by (quite honestly) making the challenger look a little bit ridiculous. This part...I don't bother spelling out.
  • Daniel: I can't see what the commentary brings in this instance. The rule is there in both cases, but in the former you put a "just for decoration" tag on it? What's the point? That nobody uses the rule seems irrelevant.
  • edited September 2009
    To give y'all some further context, I have a number of measures designed for the group to come to a mutual agreement on the tone of their game.

    The first is that each session focuses on the PCs responding to a letter written by an NPC. There are a number of letters to choose from, each with their own subject matter and a kind of rating system that tells you whether this letter has violence, romance, intrigue, magic, and so on. So by picking a letter, your group is agreeing to focus on that kind of subject matter in this session.

    Second, each letter has a few "Goal Words" in a sidebar next to it. Those are the NPCs, locations and noteworthy things mentioned in the letter. The group's goal is to try to incorporate each of those words into the story before time runs out. (There's a separate pacing mechanic involved here.) If you work them all in, then the PCs are hailed as heroes by the townsfolk. If you don't, then they're chased away by a pitchfork-wielding mob. Again, this is designed to keep everyone focused on the letter and its subject matter.

    Lastly, and this is the biggest thing, the first step of play is for the group to discuss and come to an agreement on the tone of their stories. The game provides some new terms towards this end: Big Scope/Small Scope and Light Mood/Heavy Mood.
    • A big scope means the story affects whole worlds or large numbers of people over a long period of time.
      A small scope means it focuses on a small group of characters in one place at one time without straying away very much.
      A light mood is a comedy or slapstick story without much risk of anyone being in serious danger.
      A heavy mood is a gritty drama where everyone's emotions are sincere and their motivations are grim.
    By default, the game is set to Big/Light and all the examples of play are geared towards that tone as well. It's something like Futurama in tone, where the stories are usually silly and encompass entire planets and civilizations.

    Still, I spend some time discussing the details of those other tones: Big/Heavy would be stuff like Battlestar Galactica. Small/Heavy would be like My So-Called Life. Small/Light could be Saved By the Bell. (You can play the game in those tones, but it would take up too much space in the book to write up examples of play for all four.)

    So far in playtests, this terminology has been useful when someone steps over the line from light to heavy or small to big and vice versa. Players can (and have) said things to the affect of "Hey, that's kind of heavy for this game, can you lighten it up a bit?" and "Let's keep things small for now, we can make the story bigger in the climax."

    Sooooo... With all those measures in place for the group to openly and explicitly state their intentions for the story, is it still worth adding a sidebar discussing the utility of an outright veto?
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